Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Funkhouser's Chances in 2011

There is nobody in Kansas City with a better chance of winning the 2011 Mayor's race than Mark Funkhouser. Now that Steve "Karnac" Kraske has declared his chance "microbe on a diet" slim, things are looking pretty good for Funkhouser, since Kraske never gets anything right. Go read my analysis at the KC Free Press if you're interested.

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BP, Massey, Goldman Sachs - Don't Hate the Playa, Hate the Game

BP could have prevented the oil spill with a little more safety equipment, but failed to do so. Massey Energy sent workers into unsafe mines while fighting regulatory fines. Goldman Sachs made money by selling sure losers to "valued" customers.

The list goes on and on. Corporate farms fail to prevent manure from fouling streams. Toyota takes the cheap way out on repairs. Insurance companies target breast cancer patients for rescission.

It's not their fault. They are doing their jobs.

The lion's share of the evil done in this country is done by people simply doing their jobs, working for corporations. They are doing what they are supposed to do, polluting, denying, cutting corners on safety. It is aimed at making money for their employers.

And we can't blame the corporations, either. They are doing their jobs, which is to make money. That is all.

Corporations are inhuman. Literally, they are an artificial entity created by legislatures for the purpose of making money. Here is the dry statutory language that serves as the genesis, as the Frankensteinian spark of life, as the coital means of conception, for Missouri corporations.

The rustling dry paper of statutes gives life to literally inhuman artificial organisms designed solely to make money and to preserve the assets of their owners. If I, myself, negligently sell you an apple pie that is poisonous, you can sue me and gain all my assets. If I do it after setting up Gonemild Pie Shop, Inc., though, you can only get the assets of the corporation, whatever they may be. I am freed from my personal responsibility.

That inhumane freedom grows exponentially in the hands of employees. Your engineering friend designs damns that block beautiful rivers, and takes pride in doing a great job of it, because that is what s/he is paid to do, whether or not s/he wants to see a reservoir flooding the green valley. Your health insurance company friend applies the letter of the contract to deny a single mother coverage, but feeds stray kittens in his/her spare time. Your upper management brother-in-law calculates the cost of a recall and decides how much safety is cost-effective.

BP looks at the cost of installing another "fail-safe" system, and decides to save the money. If you're the one who made that decision, you did your job to the best of your ability at the time. It's not your fault.

The corporation's job is to make money. Your job, as an employee, is to help it make money, within the bounds of the law. If you go around tossing millions of dollars into safety equipment that is not required by law, your company will be out-performed by a company that uses the money to pay shareholder dividends.

The manager of the Walmart down the street would like to pay his/her employees a living wage, but it's against corporate policy.

Corporations did not always exist. They were initially created with lots of limitations, including a limited lifespan, for specific, high-risk purposes, with perceived public benefits, such as colonizing America.

Now, multi-national corporations have outgrown even the countries that created them. Governments are granting them additional rights, such as the right to make contributions to candidates. Corporations control our food supply, and more.

The human beings at BP took a gamble on behalf of their corporate employer that the additional safety equipment would not be needed. It was, at the time, a reasonable economic decision on behalf of a statutorily created, non-human entity whose only reason for existence is to return value to its shareholders.

For years, we will argue about whose fault it is and the extent of monetary liability and the ability of regulators to have prevented this environmental tragedy.

But nobody will question the fundamental wisdom of statutorily creating paper beings whose sole purpose is to make money. The discussion will not be raised in corporate newspapers or discussed on corporate TV.

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Still Struggling with Technical issues

But I hope to have them resolved sometime this week.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Transferring Domains

I prefer having my own domain, but, for right now, this blog will appear at http://gonemild.blogspot.com/. I think. Sorry for the confusion.

New Site for the Time Being

I prefer having my own domain, but, for right now, this blog will appear at http://gonemild.blogspot.com/. I think. Sorry for the confusion.

Still playing with blog mechanics

This old dog is trying to learn a few ftp tricks.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blog Mechanics

Going to try to migrate my blog to a new system this morning. Times like this make me wish I understood technology better . . .

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Elvis Costello and local politics

My column over at the KCFreePress this week discusses dirty tricks and local politics, and it works in two of my Elvis Costello quotations - "There's no such thing as an original sin" and "I used to be disgusted and now I try to be amused."

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Olive Oil and Homebrew

I've written about my willingness to violate the German purity law in making my homebrew, but I never thought I would go this far. I've started adding olive oil to my beer.

The issue is oxygen. Yeast need a certain amount of oxygen to do their work in converting sugary wort (the beer juice that you boil) into beer. The amount they need is a bit more than will wind up in the wort under normal brewing conditions, employing normal brewing techniques.

There are a few ways of getting more oxygen in the wort. One way is to shake the heck out of the carboy (the big bottle where you add the yeast and let it ferment) for a half hour or so. The downside of this method is that it's a lot of work to shake up a 50 pound bottle of beer, and I make ten gallon batches, so the work is doubled.

Another way is to bubble air through an aquarium pump and aeration stone (usually employing a filter in the tubing to get rid of floating wild yeast, bacteria, etc.). The problem with this is that you get a ton of foam, and it takes forever to add some air, wait for the foam to subside, add more air, and repeat until you bubble enough air through. Plus, the foam you create is composed of the same proteins and stuff you want to help your beer form head when you pour it, and, in a nutshell, when you use it you lose it. So you might wind up with a good, but flat beer.

The most professional way is to add straight oxygen to the wort, again, using an aeration stone. There's a little expense involved, and the stones are a bear to sanitize, but it's the best way to add oxygen. Sometimes, though, it can be too effective, and too much oxygen in the beer can make the yeast generate all kinds of off-flavors.

A little olive oil avoids the need for so much oxygen. I'm not biochemist, but much of the oxygen needed by the yeast goes to help form cell walls. Olive oil reduces the need for oxygen in this stage, because it provides the kind of fatty acids that the yeast would otherwise need to create by itself. The science is complex, but here's a 35 page thesis on the subject if you're interested.

To adapt the process to homebrewing, you want to use a minuscule amount of olive oil. Too much could conceivably affect the flavor profile, and way too much could destroy the head.

For a few recent batches, I've split my wort into two 5 gallon carboys, and added a tiny amount of olive oil to one of the carboys. I've straightened a paper clip, flamed the end, and dipped the tip into olive oil, then mixed it in with the wort as it runs from the boiling kettle into the carboy. The other carboy gets my normal method of oxygenation, which consists of a splashy trip into the carboy and a bit of shaking.

The results have been subtle. In a recent Vienna Lager, both versions had the same final gravity, but the one with olive oil tasted a bit smoother. In an amber ale, the difference was again subtle, but I preferred ever-so-slightly the olive oil version. (It wasn't a blind tasting, so it might reflect my bias in favor of a spiffy cheap way of improving my beer.) I've detected no downside to the method, and head retention is not impacted at all.

It sounds weird, but it seems to work. So, until I'm convinced otherwise, I'm bringing a bit of Italy to my homebrew.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

5 Honorary Meat Dishes

I'm a shameless carnivore, happy to be perched near the top of a providentially-designed food chain. I enjoy chunks of animal protein, I always have, and I always will. On this point, I share common ground with the Sage from Wasilla - "If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?".

But even I find myself having meatless meals from time to time. Sometimes, my appetite strays from its carnivorous tendencies, and I find myself realizing after a tasty meal that there wasn't any meat involved in a perfectly satisfying entree. Those entrees never are fussy messes of too-sharp onion, mesclun that looks and tastes like lawn clippings, or tofu. Instead, they are classic meals that transcend the need for meat.

I propose that the following 5 entrees be considered honorary meat dishes, and henceforth be recognized as unifying meals that can cause vegetarians and meat-lovers to sit down together without compromising satisfaction or principle.

1. Pizza Margherita: Dough, tomatoes, cheese and basil baked together in a pie that satisfies. Inspired by royalty, the classic Pizza Margherita's ingredients achieve a purity that can only be sullied by pepperoni or italian sausage.

2. Macaroni and Cheese: Many of us lived on boxed versions of this during college years of relative poverty, and sumptuous new takes on the recipe often include lobster or pancetta. They're all good, but the good old classic, with bread crumbs on top, deserves a spot in the pantheon of great meals.

3. Falafel: I was in college when a friend introduced me to fried globs of ground up chickpeas in pita bread; he told me it was the "Big Mac" of Israel. Falafel has been among my favorite foods ever since - a great one has flavors and textures that can blow you away.

4. Welsh Rabbit (or rarebit): It seems too simple to be satisfying, and too small to be filling. But the toasted english muffin with a savory, rich cheddar sauce described in The Vegetarian Epicure cookbook caught our attention back during the Reagan administration, and its simple satisfaction has remained a favorite. Served with a hearty ale, it's a warming meal.

5. Pierogies: I may be a bit ahead of the curve on this one, in that pierogies are not as universally known or appreciated as pizza or mac cheese, but, trust me, these over-sized mutant ravioli are Polish soul food. Locally, Pieroguys are soon to open a cafe in the River Market, and their frozen offerings are found in a few grocery stores. Closer to home, you can make my mother's version by following my narrative recipe.

What else belongs on this list? Eggplant parmesan, grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti with marinara sauce, portabella sandwiches?

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Schools First - Can't We Agree on Anything?

The level of discourse among the chattering class of Kansas City is sometimes astounding. Occasionally, though, a conversation with someone removed from the political sphere casts a shaft of light into the room, and the ugly reality of political gamesmanship is revealed in all its sordid detail.

A friend this weekend asked me what I thought about Funkhouser's Schools First initiative. I started to discuss the challenges it will face, and whether Jan Marcason and a couple others will do their best to sink it, and what the ramifications of the bonds would be, etc.. My friend looked at me with something near disgust, and shut me up with a few simple words. "It's a good idea, isn't it?"


Lost in all the maneuvering, all the intrigue, all the paybacks is that simple question. "It's a good idea, isn't it?"

It IS a good idea. The Schools First initiative would direct some of the city's resources toward one of its most troubled areas of public service, perfectly timed to build upon the spirit of change and opportunity developing in the Kansas City Metropolitan School District. Each of the 5 facets of the initiative would have a positive impact on the lives of children and families in our city.

Only in the oxygen-starved rooms of Council Chambers and Star Editorial cubicles can that be a bad thing. When all is said and done, the Schools First initiative is about helping children and families. Can't we at least agree on that?

What's wrong with using $100 million in general obligation bonds to improve infrastructure around the schools? The need to upgrade the city's infrastructure is universally acknowledged - the only question is where to start. Why not start where it will help the lives of children and families?

What's wrong with renewing the public safety sales tax and using it to support security around schools? Jefferson City stands ready and willing to make the necessary changes to the law so that we can spend our money on people instead of buildings.

What's wrong with prioritizing schools in city services? Why wouldn't we want to clean up graffiti around our schools first, and clear weeds from where school children walk?

What's wrong with seeking grant funding in partnerships with schools?

What's wrong with putting someone in City Hall in charge of making all this work smoothly?

Only in the misguided power world of politicos and editorialists is there anything wrong with helping children, families and schools. I hope that those members of the City Council who are "struggling" with this simple decision will come to their senses and work to improve the lives of children and families.

If we can't agree on that, voters will have a clear direction on whom to vote for in 2011. A lot of voters will agree on that.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

If I Recall Correctly . . .

One of the funnier moments in my visit to the "Taking Our Country Backwards" tour came when some local radio guy handed the microphone over to a distant relative of President Obama (they share a great-great-grandfather). The guy started spouting debunked lies about health care reform (16,000 IRS agents? really? that lie got demolished weeks ago) and then begged people to go to recalldennismoore.com.

Ignore the fact that Dennis Moore is retiring. Ignore the fact that no congressperson has ever been recalled in the history of the United States. Ignore the fact that state recall of a federal officer faces some major constitutional hurdles. Go ahead and ignore the fact that Dennis Moore has not done anything wrong. Ignore all that pesky real world information.

The site he directs you to is a scam.

If you go to that site, which is registered to a proxy, it takes you to a blogspot page that features an internet petition, requiring you to surrender your email address in order to "sign" a "recall petition" purporting to support an "application to recall Congressman Dennis Moore".

Sorry, folks, that's not the way the real world works. If you signed this petition, I suspect you've put your email address on a list that is being sold world-wide as a prime source of gullible potential customers of pharmaceuticals, get-rich-quick schemes and whatever else they dream up.

This is NOT a legitimate recall petition.

If you want to see how the Kansas recall process works, go look here for how to do it.

I'll cut to the chase, though. It's not done by circulating an email petition.

Anybody who tells you it works that way thinks you're a chump.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Olfactory KC - To Heck with Folgers - Let's Come to Our Scents

Kansas Citians are disappointed to hear that the Folger's Plant will be decamping to New Orleans. Some PR opportunists are even mounting a futile Facebook campaign to get the plant to stay, and thousands of the gullible have joined. Kansas City doesn't want to lose that aroma.

Viewed correctly, this is not a civic loss, it is a civic opportunity.

Kansas City could be the first major American city to choose its own scents to match its mood. And we could do it for a minuscule fraction of the money that we spend on other schemes that produce far less obvious results.

The science of scents has progressed a long way, and Kansas City could be unique in embracing the opportunity presented. With a few industrial sized scent diffusers placed strategically throughout the city, we could choose our scent day by day, to reflect our mood and our agenda.

There are thousands of choices. Imagine the scent of gunpowder filling the air on Independence Day. Cotton candy when the circus comes to town. Horse manure on days when the Jackson County legislature is in session. Sulfur when the Raiders are in town. The possibilities are endless.

A quick online check shows that you can easily find thousands of scent varieties for $120/gallon - you could probably get it cheaper if you did it by competitive bidding. Figure 20 gallons of this potent stuff sprinkled throughout the downtown loop would be a heavy dose - we might be able to get by with less. Multiply that by 365 days a year, and you come up with a total of $876,000 - an embarrassingly small total for a civic initiative in this town. Add in the capital cost of 20 gigantic scent diffusers, (I don't know - maybe $10,000 each?) and you barely clear a million dollars - civic chump change. We could even repurpose those Sky Stations . . .

Compare this to the millions and millions we're spending on the Power and Light District, and you will see that we can replace Folgers' aroma at a fraction of the cost, and there wouldn't be racially-charged dress codes to deal with. And maybe, if we're lucky, this investment would distract those city council people who are foolishly considering a disastrous multi-million dollar risky investment in a useless downtown convention hotel. (Something smells really bad about that deal.)

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Roy Blunt - Out of Step With Missouri

For years, Roy Blunt has been a Congressman from a different part of Missouri and I could pretty much ignore his philandering and prize-winning corruption. But now he's trying to become my embarrassment, too, as a candidate for Senate, so I'm starting to pay attention to whether he can fill the shoes of Senator Kit "Earmark" Bond.

Yesterday, Roy Blunt announced that he is opposing "pre-existing condition" coverage in Health Care Reform. He wants insurance companies to be able to deny coverage for those with high blood pressure, minor skin cancer, diabetes, even genetic conditions. It really is a shocking position to take - 89% of Americans support the provisions requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Partyng with the Tea Baggers

On Saturday, I went to the "Taking Our Country Back" Tour at the Sprint Center. It was a whole lot less impressive than I thought it would be. I'm not sure if the place was air-conditioned, or if the presence of Karl Rove sent a chill through the air.

If you're interested, I wrote a lot more about it at KCFreePress.com.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Stephanopoulos Makes a Fool of Himself

George Stephanopoulos is not a fool - but he can't help behaving like one sometimes. In this exchange, President Obama demonstrates that not every dog must be wagged by the tail end of our national intellect.
STEPHANOPOULOS:I want to get to some of those broader issues [of nuclear proliferation]. Because you're also facing criticism on that. Sarah Palin, taking aim at your decision to restrict the use of nuclear weapons. Your pledge not to strike nations, non-nuclear nations, who abide by the nonproliferation treaty. Here's what she said. She said, "It's unbelievable, no other administration would do it." And then she likened it to kids on the playground. She said you're like a kid who says, "Punch me in the face, and I'm not going to retaliate." Your response?

OBAMA: I really have no response. Because last I checked, Sarah Palin's not much of an expert on nuclear issues.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the string of criticism has been out there among other Republicans as well. They think you're restricting use of nuclear weapons too much.

OBAMA: And what I would say to them is that if the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I'm probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But not concerned about her criticisms?


Bravo, President Obama. Bravo.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Courageous Mental Health Blogging

Todd Elkins has been blogging about his struggles with mental health, even to the point of listing his medications and their costs in a series of posts about how he manages to get his hands on the medications he needs. If he were writing about a struggle with some variety of cancer, he'd be lauded as courageous. Because the illness is mental, though, he draws haters and even his supporters, like me, tend to lurk in silence because it's not a topic we're accustomed to being honest about.

Keep up the good work, Todd, and thank you for offering a window into a world many of us are too chicken to look at.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Politics Elsewhere

I've been neglecting this blog a bit, but that's just a temporary thing. If you care to read more, I'm doing a weekly post for KCFreePress.com. This week's piece addresses the efforts to increase the role of money in selecting Missouri's judges.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Let's Name the Courthouse for Terry Riley

How does "Terry Riley's Jackson County Courthouse" sound?

Terry Riley has filed to run against Fred Arbanas for County Legislature. Riley has my whole-hearted, enthusiastic support. Arbanas has been on the legislature since it was created. He has been a part of the legislature while crimes were committed, while ethics rules were avoided, and while shady deals were passed.

He has been there for every misdeed of the county legislature. I can't say whether he knew about them or not. Either way, though, he was either oblivious or involved. Neither answer is good.

Worse, he even allowed the County's only golf course to be named after himself. While it is always a bad idea to name public facilities after living politicians, it's even worse when a county names one of its nicest parks after a guy who votes for parks budgets, and who benefits from having signs and advertisements trumpeting his name during an election. It was a horrible, corrupt trick to play when it happened, and Arbanas should have had the good sense and integrity to refuse the honor.

But he didn't.

So now he's in a genuine, competitive race for "his" seat on the county legislature. To make amends for the fact that the county has promoted the Fred Arbanas golf course for years, they should rename the Jackson County Courthouse for Terry Riley, at least until the election is over. And, since Arbanas' name has been on signs out on "his" course for years, the county should install neon signs at the top of the courthouse proclaiming the new name.

It's only fair.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who to Vote for in the School Board Elections - Crispin Rea and Kyleen Carroll

I wrote a column at KCFreePress.com about the challenges of choosing candidates in the 6 person, 2 winner at large elections. Even if you try to get informed, it's tough to tell one candidate from another. They all say nice, inspiring things and don't talk much about policy differences.

Enough of that analytical even-handedness!

Vote for Crispin Rea and Kyleen Carroll. If you live in his district, vote for Joseph Jackson.

The fundamental question is whether to support the Superintendent's "Right Sizing" Plan. Short answer, it's not perfect, but it's pretty darned well-thought-out and it is the only hope for transformative change in the District. I think it's the right thing to do.

That knocks Cokethea Hill and Kenneth Hughlon off the list of candidates. They do not support the superintendent or the plan; the superintendent will be gone in a few months if those two win seats.

Here's where the politics gets a little difficult. All of the other four candidates are good people, and will support necessary change. It's tempting to take a "pick 'em" stance and advise voting for whichever one you happen to prefer.


Do the math. It's not that a vote for Robert Peterson or Rose Marie Bell is a vote for a bad person or even someone who will serve ineffectively. It's just that if the people stuck in the status quo unite behind their two candidates, and the people who support change spread their votes among four, change loses.

Kansas Citians United for Educational Achievement - the only organization worth listening to on school board matters, in my opinion - has endorsed Crispin Rea and Kyleen Carroll. (They have also endorsed Joseph Jackson, who is running for the 4th subdistrict, which is the east part of midtown - if you live in subdistrict 4, memorize his name, too!)

It is really important that voters get out and vote on April 6. If you want an absentee ballot, get it here and return it before 5:00 on March 31. You can be sure that the people who are profiting from mismanagement and the entrenched status quo in the School District will be getting out and voting on April 6.

April 6 is an opportunity to move the district past constant turmoil and forward to a new vision. If you fail to vote, you may be abandoning thousands of children and families whose hope lies in change.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kansas City is Spitting Mad at Jo Ann Emerson (R - Mo)

Jo Ann Emerson's choice of whom to stand with could not be clearer. On the one hand, you have a mob of crazy tea-baggers, calling a civil rights hero the "N word" , calling Barney Frank the "F word", and actually spitting on a fellow Missouri Congressman. On the other hand, you have Reverend Emanuel Cleaver, a dignified Methodist minister and hard-working representative of fellow Missourians.

Jo Ann Emerson is making the wrong choice. She's standing with the spitters.

While she did not do the spitting, she egged on the unruly mob and has refused to reject the vitriol of the tea-baggers.

It's funny to contrast Jo Ann Emerson's immaturity and lack of discipline with the class and discipline of her opponent in this election cycle. Tommy Sowers is a straight arrow - if anyone dared to spit on a minister in his presence, no matter what the politics, educator/Green Beret Tommy Sowers would have the right stuff to put a stop to the nonsense, instead of encourage it.

Sometimes, the fog of politics rises for a moment, and you can see what kind of person someone is. Jo Ann Emerson is the kind of person who hangs out with people who would spit on Kansas City's chosen representative.

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Sunday Poetry: Buckingham Palace, by A.A. Mllne

Buckingham Palace

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
"A soldier's life is terrible hard,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We saw a guard in a sentry-box.
"One of the sergeants looks after their socks,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We looked for the King, but he never came.
"Well, God take care of him, all the same,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
They've great big parties inside the grounds.
"I wouldn't be King for a hundred pounds,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
A face looked out, but it wasn't the King's.
"He's much too busy a-signing things,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
"Do you think the King knows all about me?"
"Sure to, dear, but it's time for tea,"
Says Alice.

- by A.A. Milne

Today is National Children's Poetry Day, and this one brings to mind the faces of my children smiling and reciting this poem nestled on the couch with my wife. The repeated lines and dependable rhythm allowed them to "catch on" at an early age, and enjoy the music of the words. In fact, this one was often sung in our home, and two wonderful readers were born.

If you have a child in your life, please take some time to read to him or her. Just as exercise in the back yard helps children strengthen and develop coordination, sitting next to an adult reading helps children grow intellectually and develop appreciation of the written word.

Poetry does not need to be about serious topics to be important.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The "K" to Become "KC" - Barnes and Sanders Team Up!

The announcement of Kay Barnes as the choice to head up a Jackson County Charter Review Task Force didn't attract much notice, but it could be the most significant event for Kansas City political insiders since Tom Pendergast started selling concrete.

A task force to review the Jackson County Charter sounds like an innocuous, perhaps even dull, assignment for a woman who once spent her days being chauffeured to ribbon-cuttings at taxpayer-financed boondoggles that profited her closest friends. Term limits forced her out of that cushy gig, much to the disappointment of her entourage of developers and real estate lawyers. A subsequent attempt to take her game to the next level by seeking access to the even larger federal dollar pot resulted in a bruising defeat and a nightmarish couple years spent north of the river, miles from the Country Club Plaza.

"Kay and I met one day when she accidentally visited Independence, thinking she would find the headquarters of The Independent, Kansas City's Journal of Society," Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders recounted.

"I saw my opportunity to solve some of the County's real estate problems - namely, the fact that the City has begun to realize that they have no obligation to donate $2,000,000 to the stadiums. Kay has demonstrated a real knack for sticking Kansas City taxpayers with outrageous financial obligations, and that is exactly what I wanted to accomplish."

While the Jackson County Charter Review Commission has yet to hold its first meeting, big changes are already afoot. Barnes is taking a fresh approach to the task, using the opportunity to use the County's governing document to alter some fundamental relationships.

Kay Barnes beamed with excitement as she announced the most visible change. "From now on, the 'K' will be called the 'KC'!," she proclaimed from behind a humongous flower.

While many in the audience assumed that the name was being changed to reflect a more active role for Kansas City, her posse of developers and real estate lawyers were quick to correct the mistake.

"'Kauffman Stadium' will now officially be called 'Kauffman-Cordish' Stadium, and the stadium complex will henceforth be part of the Power and Light District," former City Manager Wayne Cauthen announced. "I had never actually read the contracts between the City and Cordish, but it turns out that instead of promising free parking, like Kay and I told people it did, it actually gave Cordish the rights to use taxpayer funds to directly take over local businesses instead of slowly driving them out of business. Who knew?"

Of course, once Cordish takes over the site, Kansas City taxpayers will be on the hook for all the risk but none of the profit. "That's the way it works," former Mayor Barnes explained. "We're already paying $12 million this year for P&L, up from $4 million last year. What's another few million dollars? The snow on the streets will be melted by the time baseball season starts."

The deal will have a major impact on the management of the Royals baseball team, as well. CEO David Glass made the announcement that Steve Glorioso, longtime aide to Kay Barnes, will be joining Royals management as Revenge Coach.

"For years we've focused on Offense and Defense, but it hasn't worked out very well for us. When we saw how Mr. Glorioso handled the defeat of his chosen candidates in the Mayoral and Congressional elections, we realized we were missing out on an important facet of the complete game. From now on, whenever a team defeats us, we will focus on attacking them, their families, and their supporters. We will contact other teams in the league to badmouth the victors, and then we will badmouth those teams when it suits us." Glorioso chimed in, "Do you know what kind of cars opposing players drive? Do you know that some of them talk to their wives about the games??"

When asked why they were hiring Mr. Glorioso instead of someone with a better track record of success, Mr. Glass explained, "Jeff Roe was already talking to the Yankees, and Steve pointed to his experience."

Critics pointed to a looming problem with the concept of Cordish ownership of the the stadium. A reporter from a small newspaper raised the question - "What will those money-loving #### do when black athletes show up in athletic apparel?"

Cordish was not yet prepared to respond to the issue. "We're at least two task forces and a committee away from figuring out what to do with the dress code issue," Mayor Funkhouser replied. "Until we get it resolved, we will expect all athletes to play in proper 'club' attire."

As the press conference came to a close, Anne McGregor showed up in the parking lot with a few paid petitioners in an attempt to "Recall the Umpire". Upon hearing that there was no legal basis to recall the umpire, she explained that the umpire is the least popular person on the field, and that she felt compelled to try to score a few political points off the opportunity. "Even when - I mean if - I fail again to get the right number of legitimate signatures, I can get some publicity for my effort. Oh, and I'm supposed to say 'Stop the nonsense' - my sponsors pay me money every time I say that!"

In a final note, Cordish announced that the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame will be broadening its scope. "When we came to Kansas City, the first thing we did was bring in Minneapolis barbecue to replace Lil' Jake's. We want to bring a certain bland homogeneity to all cities, and we see no reason that the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame should feature Kansas City Royals. We'll be replacing the George Brett statue with a Kirby Puckett statue on opening day," a nameless company spokesperson recited. "The Johnson Countians we're hoping to attract probably won't notice the difference."

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kevin Collison's Tiny Rolodex

This morning's paper brings yet another example of how the Kansas City Star's journalistic lapses have degraded this city's schools, public safety and tax base. This time, it's Kevin Collison who fails to ask questions and present facts to help our city assess a humongous investment of borrowed money. By failing to seek input from the people truly concerned with the real cost of development, Collison neglects to present a complete story.

Page 3 of the Business Section features Collison at his worst, complete with sloppy, lazy reporting and misleading graphics. In an advocacy piece masquerading as journalism, Collison presents the bracingly silly argument that because hotel occupancy is suffering in Kansas City, we need to increase our supply of hotel rooms. In the paper, the headline reads "KC Hotels Seek an Awakening", with the slanted subtitle "Supporters of a proposed downtown convention hotel say it would help increase demand." Uh-huh.

Collison makes quite clear he is one of the aforementioned supporters. In the paper edition of his story, he provides a graphic employing the age-old trick of "truncated scales". Collison adapts Darrell Huff's advice in How to Lie with Statistics (a wonderful book everyone should read): "Chop off the bottom. Of course the eye doesn't 'understand' what isn't there, and a small rise [can] become, visually, a big one." In this case, of course it is a big decline that Collison is trying to exaggerate, so his scare graph shows "KC occupancy rates, 1989-2009" plummeting to near the "rock bottom" of 50% - the drop looks a lot more precipitous when it drops to the bottom instead of hovers above the 50% line.

Collison's graphical tomfoolery is just the most visible bias, though. He quotes Bill George extensively and unquestioningly, despite Mr. George's surprising statement that "We don't believe there will be a problem with the financial success of a new hotel, and we're also looking at what it would do to boost the occupancy of other hotels." This financial cockiness contrasts with the one representative of the hotel industry Collison quotes, who tells us that more than a quarter billion dollars worth of Kansas City hotels are already in financial distress, and that banks have run Kansas City hotels for several years. When our City Council is toying with the idea of tossing tax dollars into a failing business model, it would be reassuring to see some follow-up questions from a reporter.

One explanation of the apparent contrast between Mr. George and the person actually in the hotel industry is not found anywhere in Collison's article. Mr. George made his money in the cab and shuttle business, dropping people off at the doors of the hotels. He also has served multiple times as chair of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association. That's not in any way a criticism of Mr. George - he has a legitimate interest in doing whatever it takes to increase the number of conventioneers. He's doing his job.

Unfortunately, Kevin Collison is not doing his job. Where is a quotation from the manager of the Marriott - does he or she buy into the argument that the correct solution to low demand is to increase supply? What about the Hyatt or Westin?

Most damningly, where is the input from the people whose money they are proposing to spend on this project? The decision on whether to divert city assets to a fat-cat hotel is not merely a squabble between current hotel owners and people who want to drive more taxis.

We're talking about tax money here. These people want our dollars. They're not fools - they're not going to gamble their own fortunes on the claim that you should build more supply when the buyers stop buying.

They want to take more of the money that should have gone to clear streets this winter. They want to take money that might allow a few of the schools to remain open. This is not free money that they want to spend.

Why didn't Kevin Collison put in a quotation from a student whose school is being closed? Why didn't he ask a grieving family on the East side about the relative importance of hotels and public safety? Maybe those people aren't "important" enough to wind up in a business reporter's call list - okay, then why didn't he call Crosby Kemper, the head of the Kansas City Library? If we're only going to hear from people who might be found at the River Club, could we at least get a word in from someone who cares about the impact on the taxpayer, when he's writing about spending tax dollars??

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Poetry: There once was a man from Nantucket . . ., by the Editors of the Princeton Tiger


There once was a man from Nantucket,
Who kept all of his cash in a bucket,
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

- by the Princeton Tiger (1924)

It's the week of St. Patrick's Day, and it's as good a time as any to talk about Limericks. Often bawdy, and usually humorous, limericks are an example of a poetic form working with humor to make something memorable. The example above is a classic, printed in 1924 by the Princeton Tiger and drawing responses from other newspapers. The creative tension of the above poem comes from a rhyme which does not get stated - the reader waits for another "ucket" rhyme that never comes.

Often, the unmentionable does, in fact, get stated, and that is part of the fun. Clean limericks appear in childrens' books and bawdy ones draw a laugh in raucous bars.

I won't go into a lengthy recitation of the history of the lyric, except to observe that Edward Lear's reputation far outstrips his talent (he often repeats the first rhyme), and that St. Patrick's week is a fine occasion to try writing a few of your own.

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